Friday, June 8, 2012

A day at Kalaupapa

In years past while visiting Maui, I would often look over at Molokai and wonder... "what's over there? what's it like?" All I knew about the island was the fact that there had been a leper colony on it at one point. Was it still there? I really didn't know. But now I do! We have had the privilege of going down to Kalaupapa a few times... it's an amazing place. I went down with my folks on mules back in December and had a wonderful time. Since then John's been down 6 times! Our friend Paul is the volunteer coordinator for the parks dept. there and John has been volunteering in the nursery, designing and installing a new irrigation system for their propagation house. Last week I went along to explore and experience more of this incredible place.

The view from the top of the trail.
The Kalaupapa peninsula lies 1600 feet below the cliff tops. The trail is a series of 26 switchbacks that go straight down the side of the pali (cliff). It's absolutely spectacular and felt far safer hiking it than sitting on the back of a mule! I like having control of how I get down, where I place my feet, etc! My legs started to feel like jello about three-quarters of the way down and I was very happy to get to the bottom and walk along the beach and into Kalaupapa.
Looking back at the pali and the trail from Kalaupapa. If you look closely at the photo above, right in the middle you can see parts of the trail zigzagging down the cliff.
I had the huge honor of walking around by myself while John worked in the nursery. Very few people get this opportunity as most folks that visit come through the tour company and have to stay with the tour for the few hours that they are there. That is really the only way to visit unless you volunteer with parks, or work there. Many of the people who have lived on Molokai for years have never been down to Kalaupapa. To have the day down there to wander and explore was a huge blessing.

Lots of dilapidated old buildings.
I have read a few books about Kalaupapa and what life was like for some of the people who were sent here once they were diagnosed with Hansen's Disease (the proper name for leprosy). It was a tragic time for the more than 8000 people who were sent here over a period of 80 - 100 years. People taken away from their families and sent here to be in isolation, where they could not spread the disease. Little children, mothers and fathers.... no one was spared. This photo above is the visiting room. There used to be a glass window that ran right down the middle of the room from end to end. When family or friends came to visit (which was quite rare), the patients would be on one side and the visitors on the other, with absolutely no contact allowed. In later years they changed it to chain link fence so at least conversations could be had, but still no contact.  

A fun old building... even a licence plate from Alberta! No idea how it got there!

A beautiful spot to sit and journal.
After an hour or so of exploring on my own, I met John back at the wharf where we jumped into the ocean and snorkeled. The water was crystal clear and there were fish everywhere. It felt like we were in a giant aquarium! So wonderful!
After a swim and picnic lunch we met up with Paul who took us for a little tour of the peninsula.
Up on top the crater rim. It was so windy!
The geography of this area is fascinating. About 2 million years ago there was a huge landslide and part of the mountains on the north side of Molokai fell into the sea, leaving the incredible sea cliffs that we see today (the highest sea cliffs in the world). Then about half a million years ago, a volcano just off shore and underwater erupted, forming the peninsula at the base of the cliffs. The crater of that volcano is still part of the peninsula and has a small lake at the bottom of it that is 800 ft deep!
The green cliffs are breathtakingly beautiful.

On the east side of the peninsula near the original settlement of Kalawao.
Walking along the beach, back to the trail up the pali.
 It was quite a hike back up! My calves hurt for a few days after that!
What an incredible day! We were blessed to have some of our new friends (Julie and David) spending the day with the kids so we could have the day together at Kalaupapa. They had a wonderful time and weren't ready for us to come back when we did.
There is so much more I'd love to share about Kalaupapa and the history there but it's beyond the scope of this blog post. If you are at all interested in learning more about this bit of history I would highly recommend a couple of books: No Footprints in the Sand is an amazing memoir written by a patient who just died a few years ago. Molokai is historical fiction. It's well researched, well written and hard to put down... about a young girl sent to Kalaupapa at the age of 7. An amazing, heart wrenching, but beautiful tale.

 Both of these books have left a lasting impression on me, making it even more special to be down there, feeling the energy of all the people that once lived there. A handful of patients remain in Kalaupapa, living out their last years in this beautiful place they call home. If you are ever in Hawaii, I would highly recommend a trip to Molokai, and to Kalaupapa. Make sure you read one of the books first though so you can truly appreciate the history! It is truly an unforgettable experience.


1 comment:

  1. Glad you got to do this with John! I am sorry that we didn't get to, I know I would have loved the hike in and out, and exploring the area after reading about it years ago. Fun day, aching calves are worth it :)